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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- After more than 14 years, a Marine from the 9th Marine Corps District finalizes her journey to a better way of life in the United States.
Standing among 60 other new citizens, Sgt. Sonya E. Bryant, adjutant clerk with the 9th Marine Corps District, became an American citizen at the United States District Courts, Western District of Missouri, Dec. 6.
Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Bryant, at age 11, fled to the U.S. with her mother in search of a better life. She spent the majority of her life living in Miami and then St. Louis, from where she enlisted. For her, serving the country that accepted her family years ago was more than just a calling.
Bryant credits her attendance at Cleveland Junior Naval Academy in St. Louis for helping her grow. “I knew I wanted to do something with my life and for my country,” Bryant said. “It just seemed right and I truly do love being in the Marine Corps. I almost can't imagine doing anything else.”
Throughout her career, Bryant has been stationed in Parris Island, S.C., and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., where she deployed with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit. During her time on the MEU, she traveled to Hawaii, Guam, Thailand, Oman, Hong Kong and made other stops along Southeast Asia.
The process of becoming an American citizen is usually long and complex. However, programs for immigrants who choose to serve during times of armed conflict have been implemented to help make the process easier. In 2002, President George W. Bush signed an executive order which shortened the time it takes for a service member to become a citizen, from a year or longer, down to months. Since then, the service branches have implemented ways to assist service members with becoming citizens in a timely fashion. This includes assistance to Marine Corps recruits to help them earn their citizenship during recruit training.
Permanent residency in the U.S. carries some of the benefits citizens enjoy, such as employment, the ability to travel outside of the country without denial of reentry and even owning a home or business. However, several rights, such as voting, are reserved only to U.S. citizens. Permanent residents are also required to renew their status every 10 years.
“I know I want to live here for the rest of my life so it made sense to become a citizen,” Bryant said. “I’ve established a life here, most of my family is here and there are just so many more opportunities as an American.”
Bryant met her husband Michael as a student when stationed in Parris Island and they have a 3 year old son, Michael.
She started the process with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services this past summer and was amazed to realize how quick it is.
“Within two months I got a letter with a date for my ceremony,” she said.
More than 31 countries were represented in the short 30-minute ceremony, which includes the Oath of Allegiance.
U.S. District Judge Ortrie D. Smith, who presided over the ceremony, congratulated the new citizens and assured them of their responsibilities and privileges as Americans.
“Naturalization can be compared to adoption because we, as a country, take you in and make you one of our own,” Smith said. “Embrace the freedom.”
To Bryant serving in the Marine Corps has always been more than just a job. She said it means giving back to the place which provided her opportunities and defending American ideals, culture and way of life.
Other Marines see Bryant as an invaluable member of the Marine Corps, especially since this isn’t her country of birth, placing service before self.
“An example of a true American,” said Capt. Stephen J. Grogan, the adjutant for the 9th Marine Corps District. “Sgt. Bryant was an immigrant from the Dominican Republic; in an overwhelming act of fidelity to our nation's call, she joined the worlds fiercest fighting organization, promoted to the rank of Sergeant, naturalized, and continues this day to share inspiration to fellow Americans and Americans-to-be."
“I love this country,” Bryant said. “This is my home now; my country.”